Finding Great Places to Stay in Shimla : A Cautionary Tale

Created by Colleen Sims * 18 December 2023

A large old street sign advertising a Punjab restaurant in Shimla
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Finding Great Places to Stay in Shimla : Avoiding Costly Mistakes

In A Hurry? Click Here To Go To Our Favourite Hotel Choices For Shimla

We visited Shimla because Michael Portillo made a TV show about the incredible Toy Train.  He recounted the history of Shimla and its position as the Capital of India during British rule.

Shimla fitted well into our itinerary. We travelled from Mcleodganj and moved on to Delhi. And Gerry loves a train so it was an obvious choice.

I spend a lot of time researching accommodation to find the best places to stay. The choice of accommodation can make or break your visit and with my perpetual fear of missing out, I want to be sure that I’ve exhausted all avenues.

I’m vigilant and yet we still had issues and we still lost money on fake hotels. We learned lessons from those mistake so read on to ensure that you avoid the same pitfalls.

Gerry wearing his backpack silhouetted against the train arrival sign at Shimla Toy Train Station

Why Is Shimla So Popular?

Shimla, known as Queen of the Hills, was founded in 1819 but only really gained recognition in 1864, when it was declared the summer capital of British India.

In an attempt to escape the soaring summer heat of Delhi the entire government machine de-camped and moved to the mountains.  During this time, Shimla gained a reputation as a bit of a party town and became a playground for the rich, famous and well connected.

The construction of the Kalka-Shimla railway line in 1906, made the town more accessible and further increased its popularity. This unique railway still exists today and its UNESCO recognition attracts visitors from about the globe.

Remnants of the colonial age remain. Shimla’s unique appeal attracts international visitors but is also hugely popular with the local home grown tourists market and is a favourite destination for Indian families.  Shimla is also one of the India’s most popular wedding and honeymoon destinations.

Because of this popularity, it can be a difficult place to find good places to stay in Shimla.  There are hundreds of hotels and hostels to choose from but nonetheless finding the perfect accommodation in Shimla gave me a few headaches.   I felt I’d made a good choice. Until we arrived.  And boy was I wrong! 

Gerry looking out at the mountain views from Shimla town

Why Is Finding Accommodation In Shimla Difficult?

Shimla may be very popular but it isn’t perfect.   Our recent adventure proves that the reality of finding a bed can sometimes take a sharp turn.

Finding places to stay in Shimla can be a challenge and navigating your way through poor accommodation options and fake reviews adds a layer of complexity on a scale that we’d not experienced previously.

  • Limited availability : Shimla is popular which leads to limited availability of the best accommodation.  It also means that more budget-friendly options are open to misleading claims and spurious reviews.  
  • Unrealistic pricing: Supply and demand is a problem as old as time.  High demand translates to higher prices.  If you’re comparing hotel prices with other areas in India then it can lull you into a false sense of security.
  • Hidden costs: We heard from others of additional charges being added to their bill or not mentioned when booking; cleaning fees, inflated card payment fees and unfavourable exchange rates along with added taxes have all been issues.
  • Inaccurate descriptions: This was certainly an issue for us.  The level of inaccurate description was bordering on criminal; we had photographs of a hotel that no longer existed and fabricated photos of bedrooms and bathrooms.
  • Fake reviews: Fake reviews have proved to be one of the hardest obstacles for us to overcome.  We now have a healthy scepticism for too many perfect 10s.  We booked one hotel with 9.7 out of 10 and yet it was so filthy that we would never entertain staying. It seems too easy to boost a review score with tens of fake reviews; one hotel told us that there is a healthy paid-for-review industry here. 

In A Hurry? Click Here To Go To Our Favourite Hotel Choices For Shimla

Beautiful gardens at the Viceregal Lodge in Shimla; with a sign asking visitors to not pluck the flowers

Avoid Terrible Accommodation : Learn From Our Experience

Firstly, remember that there are some great accommodation choices in Shimla; you just need to do your homework. 

We travel a great deal and so far, (touch wood) I have a good track record on finding great hotels and homestays.  I lead groups on hiking trips and with 100’s of nights away under my belt I still have a 100% track record on finding great places to stay.  But Shimla was the exception that proves the rule.

We had two very negative experiences with hotels in Shimla and we’ve spoken to others who had similar issues; so we know that this is not an isolated incident.  I do think that we were unlucky to have two bad experiences but its clear that these problems aren’t unheard of.   

The good news is that you can minimise your risk, so read on to discover how to find the best accommodation and then relax and enjoy your stay in Shimla.

1. Check Availability

If you know your travel dates and those dates are fixed, then rule out accommodation that isn’t available.  I’ve wasted so many hours on fruitless searches because I forgot to check the date first.

2. Check The Location

Where do you prefer to stay?  Are you looking to be in the centre of the action, or would you rather be out of town amongst the hills and the glorious nature that Shimla is famed for?

We knew that with only two nights and one day in Shimla, and knowing about the notorious Shimla traffic, we wanted to be close to Mall Road to make the most of our time.

3. Determine Your Budget

When travelling we like a mix of accommodation.  We like homestays as we can meet other travellers and we enjoy talking with the owners, who often have a wealth of local knowledge to share.   We don’t mind simple accommodation, but we do like comfortable beds, a good shower and clean bathrooms. 

We can be flexible with our budget and it’s not the driving factor for our choices but is nonetheless important. 

4. Check The Reviews

Having determined your location and budget you should have a shortlist of potential properties so it’s time to check reviews. 

Firstly, never rely on just one source of reviews.  Always check several sources.  Some of the more obvious placed to look include :

  • Reputable accommodation sites such as Booking, AirBnB, Agoda or Expedia
  • Google reviews
  • TripAdvisor

Look at the worst lowest scores : Previously I searched latest reviews but now I strongly recommend that you look at the lowest first. 

Take a good look at the photos : especially bathrooms and pay close attention to traveller’s photos which aren’t staged and will offer a more accurate view.

Be suspicious : of properties with a surge of positive reviews, especially those with a generic language or repetitive content or reviewers who only stayed 1 night with no review history.

Top Tip : Sites will display reviews in their recommended sort order.  You should always change this to the lowest. Once you’ve checked the worst reviews you can change the sort order to the most recent and check again.

5. Compare The Shortlist

It’s likely you’ll reach this stage and still have a few potential properties on your list.  It’s time to compare what’s on offer :

  • Is breakfast included? 
  • How big is the room? 
  • Are there other facilities? 
  • How far from services and popular sites
  • Is there a kettle; a kettle is a really big deal for us

Top Tip : Sometimes we get so immersed in budget considerations that we end up making choices because of just 1 or 2 euros price difference. We have to remind ourselves that such small amounts are irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.

6.  Double Check The Worst Reviews Again

If you have only 3 or 4 properties left in your shortlist then go back to the reviews and make sure that you’ve not missed anything.

Again check the bad reviews as these paint a very different picture; if we had followed our own advice then our second bad experience would have been avoided.

However you will also see patterns emerging.  If lots of folks mention mold in the bathroom then it’s a problem.  If lots of people say that the accommodation is really noisy then it might be an issue. Don’t let the negative reviews put you off BUT if there are few alarm bells ringing then trust your gut and move on.

Remember : Some low scores are for things that may be irrelevant; maybe a booking was lost or there was bad weather or power cuts or noisy neighbours.  Things can and do go wrong even for the best hotels and visitors have different expectations. There will always be some negative reviews. 

Beautiful Viceregal Lodge in Shimla; sadly not a hotel but open to visitors.  The views are amazing, especially at sunset

How Can You Avoid Repeating Our Mistakes?

Always follow steps 1 to 6 above. 

As I mentioned, I spend a great deal of time researching accommodation and Shimla was the first time that we had a bad experience.  It’s possible to eliminate the risk by following our 6 steps but you may also wish to consider :

  • Booking well in advance: Shimla is a popular destination so plan ahead and book your accommodation as early as possible.
  • Use reliable platforms: I have a little caveat to this though because we did use reliable platforms but the property owner cancelled our booking so we were unable to leave an honest review.  Reliable platforms are a great starting point but do retain a healthy amount of caution. 
  • Read the reviews carefully:  Don’t just trust the scores but make sure you read the details.  Also pay attention to the reviewer’s profile and their travel and reviewing history; if they have a weird profile name like John1234567 and they’ve only made 1 review I’d be cautious.  And be aware that high reviews can be a reflection of a fabulous host and not always the standard of accommodation.
  • Look at other sources :  Check out your favourite travel blog, (Like Then We Walked 😉) ask on forums and social media groups and seek first-hand accounts.
  • Trust your gut: Never forget that if something feels off, it probably is.
sign reading due to bad weather the hostel is closed but the hostel is a derelict building that could never be a hotel or hostel

Our Hotel Experiences In Shimla

Do you want to know what happened to us when we arrived in Shimla? I hope that our tale of woe will help prevent others from following in our footsteps.

Shimla Hotel 1 : The Phantom Hostel

Having followed my own good advice (without the new step of checking negative reviews) I felt that I had found a good hostel with a number of good solid reviews.  

We arrived at dusk and our taxi dropped us beside a very busy road.  We walked down a muddy path which already felt a little dodgy.  A few metres further on and we were greeted by a derelict building. Totally deserted.

There was a notice which said due to bad weather they had relocated; honestly it must have been some storm to have left the building in this state. We called the number offered and had no help.  We sent a WhatsApp and received an ‘out of office’ reply.

It is entirely possible that the accommodation has genuinely moved and that recent reviews are from real customers but this was not our experience.

this was the hostel we booked in Shimla; a derelict falling down building.  Possibly one of the worst places to stay in Shimla
We arrived at this hostel at dusk; we were never going to stay!

Shimla Hotel 2: Not A Beauty Only A Beast

We sat on a wall beside the road and quickly searched for somewhere else to stay.  Determined not to let our trip be derailed, we found another hotel.  It had fabulous reviews; I should have checked more but didn’t.  We quickly read recent reviews on TripAdvisor and Booking.com and decided to go for it.

It was a ten minute walk along a very busy road, it was now dark and we were walking with our packs.  The closer we got the more I started to feel anxious; this didn’t look like a tourist area.  It certainly was not Mall Road as advertised.

Undeterred we arrived.  The guy behind a wooden desk took our money.  He only accepted cash and had no change so we had to pay extra for the room.  We should have said no.  We should have asked to see the room first.  We should have left but for some reason we didn’t. 

Top Tip : Check yourself.  In difficult stressful situations we can make decisions that we would perhaps not take with a clear head.   Take a moment.  And allow yourself to walk away.

He took us to our room and left.  The photos had showcased a beautiful room and modern bathroom. What greeted us was a far cry from this. The room was damp, the furniture bore the scars of countless previous occupants, the bathroom was awful and the windows and door let in cold air.  The only positive note was the view was good.

Before we did anything I checked the bed.  The sheets were dirty and the pillow possibly the worst I’ve ever seen anywhere. 

Of all the places to stay in Shimla this has to be the worst.  Photo of the dirtiest pillow I have ever seen
There was no way on earth I was sleeping here or laying my head on this pillow

We ordered an UBER and left.  The manager almost chased us out of the building demanding to know where we were going and refused to refund for one of our two nights.  Later that evening I received a messages demanding an explanation. He also insisted that we had already received a refund so I suggested that we call the police and he sent us half of our money immediately.

I’ve been advised not to mention the property but honestly, I feel obliged to warn other travellers.  I cannot imagine how a family with young children would feel arriving here (we booked a family room) or even a solo woman.  So I will be honest.

G.S. Cottage is listed on Booking and started to get plenty of negative reviews so it appears that they renamed themselves to GS COTTAGE ON MALL ROAD.  They kept the same photos and descriptions but lost the bad reviews.

Please don’t stay here : You can see additional photographs from TripAdvisor Reviews.

Shimla Hotel No 3 : Our Oasis in the Storm

We went back online.  We found Snow Valley Resorts Shimla; how we loved Snow Valley Resorts.

Thank goodness that not everyone will try and trick you.  We arrived and explained what had happened.  We showed them the photos and they told us that sadly this can happen in Shimla.  They were so kind. They gave us a drink. They took us to see the room and asked us to look around before making our booking. 

Snow Valley Resorts were fabulous, and their staff were fabulous.  If you’re visiting Shimla then stay here; it’s a great choice.

Our fabulous room in Snow Valley Resorts Shimla; it was the perfect place for a visit to the city and the views from the window were excellent
Thank Heaven for Snow Valley Resorts Shimla!

Lessons Learned From Our Experience

I think we were unlucky.  We can’t expect to travel as much as we do without occasionally falling foul to some tricksters.  We were caught off guard when booking our second hotel and made a hasty decision; that was a lesson learned!

Since then we always check the negative press.  I am convinced that this is where you’ll find some honest answers.  Don’t rely solely on glowing reviews, no matter how glowing. Look beyond the photos and dig deeper.

Top Tip : Always trust your gut; if something feels off, it probably is.

Please Always Leave a Review

How many times have you been asked to review a property and not done so; we don’t.  Have you ever left a property with some misgivings but the owners were so kind that you gave them a 10?  I’ll hold up my hand to that.  Or do you simply forget and move on and not leave that warning? 

If you genuinely have bad experience then please do leave a review to warn others.  We tried to leave reviews for the terrible properties on our booking site BUT the owner cancelled our bookings thus preventing us from reviewing.  We did however follow up on Google and TripAdvisor; a perfect example of why you must compare reviews on different platforms.

there are lots of places to find peace in Shimla.  The gardens of the Viceregal lodge are particularly wonderful, even in November

Hotels We Do Recommend in Shimla

Our experience serves as a cautionary tale for travellers seeking places to stay in Shimla. While the potential for disappointment does exist, it’s crucial to remember that genuine beauty and warm hospitality is still here regardless of the occasional faux pas.

By approaching your trip with a healthy dose of research, scepticism, and flexibility, you can navigate the accommodation landscape and find your perfect place to stay.

If you’re looking to save time and potential heartache then we’ve done a ton more research and chosen these fabulous hotels.

Our Budget Choice | Hosteller Shimla

  • Hosteller is a known brand with hundreds of solid reviews and it’s easy to check and compare reviews across different platforms; the reviews are honest and transparent.
  • There are bunks beds and private rooms to suit different budgets
  • It offers good value for money, in a reasonable location within an expensive city
  • You’ll notice a number of poor reviews on booking.com but with over 500 reviews you should expect some. This is a budget back-packers hostel and the price reflects this but we still feel it’s an excellent choice for the budget traveller.
Every inch of space on the mountains is used in Shimla as this photo shows.  There are a lot of places to stay and the market is very competitive

Our Comfort Choice | Snow Valley Resorts Shimla

  • This hotel felt like heaven when we arrived; Snow Valley Resorts is a lovely place to stay and offers excellent value for money. We would 100% book again.
  • The public spaces are clean and comfortable and the reception team could not have been more helpful.  We ate in the restaurant a few times and really enjoyed our meals.
  • The bed was super comfortable and the shower hot with excellent water pressure.
  • The only small downside for us was the wifi was a little slow (not a big deal) and you need a taxi to access The Mall but you can book them on Uber easily.
The view of the hills and mountains around Shimla taken from Snow Valley Resort, one of our favourite places to stay in Shimla

Our Luxury Choice | The Oberoi Cecil

  • This brand synonymous with luxury and a name that you can trust to deliver 5* services
  • The Oberio Cecil is a resort with spa, gym and indoor swimming pool making it the perfect choice for a longer stay in Shimla
  • A little pricey but if you are looking for excellence then this is the place to come and there are often offers to be found on different booking sites.
The Oberio Cecil hotel in Shimla at night

How Do You Find Great Places to Stay In Shimla?

We told ourselves before we left home for our grand tour of India and Asia, that being away for almost six months meant that we were going to face some problems.  We told ourselves that we just had to roll with it and let it go.  

If you travel independently then you must expect some hiccups and bumps on the road but do a little homework and minimize those downs.

Finding good accommodation requires research, caution, and a bit of flexibility. Being aware of the common problems and following our guidance, you’ll increase your chances of finding comfortable and reliable place to stay.

Remember, your safety and comfort are paramount. Don’t hesitate to walk away from a deal that seems too good to be true or doesn’t feel right.  But stick with our recommendations and relax and enjoy the trip!

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance

Whenever you travel overseas it’s imperative to travel with a good travel and medical insurance policy.  None of us expect anything bad to happen, but in the event of an incident, you want to be sure that your insurance will be there for you.

I’ve had the mis-fortune to end up in hospital in Peru, Indonesia, Portugal and Ireland; every time my insurance took care of everything. I would never leave home without full and comprehensive insurance.

Globelink : We have used and recommended Globelink for years and we’ve not heard of any issues. They are a great choice for European and UK Residents.

TrueTraveller : We have this policy now for an extended global trip and we are very happy with the cover, especially considering our ages and pre-existing conditions

Safety Wing : Many of my travelling buddies from the USA have recommended this company to me, although we’ve not used them personally.

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